NFC has been one of the buzzwords for mobile innovation. NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is a technology that enables a wireless data transfer between a mobile phone and chip or another device in a short range of less than 4 cm.
The technology has been developed by NXP Semiconductors and Sony and was introduced in 2002. Two years later the NFC Forum was established to promote sharing, pairing, and transaction between NFC devices as well as to develop and certify device compliance with NFC standards.
Today NFC is mostly associated with mobile payments. The innovative way of paying small amounts in the supermarket, cafés, etc. has been widely discussed and hyped. The deployment of the technology though has been rather halting. The reason is a disagreement between different stakeholders such as credit card and bank institutes, technology providers and retailers.
Since the “mobile wallet” has dominated most discussions about NFC many other use cases have gone unnoticed. First and foremost marketers have been exploring ways to use NFC for promotion campaigns.
As a marketing tool, NFC is taking on QR- Codes that are rapidly gaining popularity these days.
QR vs NFC
QR codes transmit data in one way only. The phone’s camera reads the code and translates it into data. NFC establishes a reciprocal connection that allows an actual exchange of data. The opportunities to deploy NFC are therefore way more complex than the ones of QR codes. NFC chips in the phone can store information like the user’s credit card details and communicate them to the other chip. NFC deserves additional credits for a secure connection. NFC can therefore be used for the transition of confidential data.
The interaction with QR codes requires a phone with a camera and an application to read the code and transfer it into data. Though the apps for most mobile OS are generally free, it requires quite some action from the user until the information is visible on the phone. QR codes would be of much greater success if they were integrated in the phone’s camera as they are in Japan.
NFC on the other hand establishes a connection way easier. A simple tap with the NFC enabled phone on an NFC tag establishes the connection and enables data transfer.
QR codes can be scanned by any phone with a camera in combination with an app. Phones that are able to interact with QR codes are therefore widely pervasive. QR codes have grown rather popular among marketers, so there are quite a few codes out there. Despite the rather complicated process, QR code scanning has increased by more than 4500% in the past year per Mobio. (http://www.mobio.net/reports/naked-facts-whiplash/)
NFC enabled phones, however, are still rather rare. Up to date NFC has been implemented in little over 25 different devices. Nokia leads the way with 10 NFC- enabled devices in the market. Apple decided not to equip the new iPhone 4S with NFC, which would have given penetration a big push forward.
NFC requires a physical touch point. This means that content can only be distributed “in the real world”. QR codes on the other hand are based on a graphical “signal” and can be sent along with emails etc. Links to QR codes can be shared digitally on Facebook, on websites, etc. Sharing on social networks has become quite natural to many users. QR codes are therefore able to create a bit of a viral buzz, while NFC is bound to the actual location of the tag.
NFC and QR codes fulfil similar functions in terms of data transmission. Still there are quite some differences between those two technology. While it takes little effort to create an QR code and penetration of QR code “enabled” phones is quite high, NFC is still much more in its infancy.
Mostly due to the differences in distribution and sharing, I don’t expect QR codes to disappear as NFC penetration grows. NFC biggest handicap is that its bound to a physical touch point while QR codes can be shared digitally on social networks, etc.
Nevertheless we are still expecting some creativity from marketers in the use of both QR codes and NFC. This infographic from NFCrumors.com gives some ideas on where NFC is headed in the future.
Read more about QR codes in our previous blog: Yes We Scan! Marketing with QR Codes
Read more about NFC in our previous article: NFC and Co: The Most Promising Mobile Payment Solutions or NFC for my mobile apps – how much does implementation cost and is it difficult?